Japanese Film Reviews #18: Kitamura Ryuhei’s VERSUS (2000)

Everyone who watches Japanese film knows about Versus. And for good reason, this is an awesome movie. I tend to shy away from movies that are excessively popular. This is because having never been popular myself, I harbor a deep subconscious resentment for all things that become popular. But, in this case, I will grudgingly accept that Versus has earned it’s popularity for good reason.

Written and directed by Kitamura Ryuhei, Versus stars Sakaguchi Tak and Sakaki Hideo in roles that garnered them huge cult status. Versus was so popular that it inspired the 2002 film Alive, starring the two actors in virtually identical roles and also directed by Kitamura.

After spending hours watching atrociously low-budget Japanese zombie films, Versus and the film’s amazingly choreographed action sequences look like works of art. This movie is a full throttle action movie. And, like any good action movie, the main characters are simply too cool for names.

The two main characters – Prisoner KSC2-303 (Sakaguchi Tak) and The Man (Sakaki Hideo) – are trapped in a karmic cycle where every century or two they must fight to the death over the entrance to the 444th Portal (the Japanese equivalent of 666), the power contained within it, and the life of a girl.

Where do the zombies fit into all of this? Well, the 444th Portal (unsurprisingly) has the power to reanimate the dead. Unfortunately for our hero, yakuza have been using this area around the portal as a place to bury the various people they have murdered. Thankfully, everyone seems well-equipped with an unlimited supply of ammunition and katana, so they can cut down the undead while doing a series of back flips without a care in the world.

Versus is one of those films (like Shinobi) that reminds me of Japanese animation. Everyone wears interesting clothes and wields bizarre weapons like gun-swords…I particularly like very hip clothes in the samurai flashback scenes.

I only have two complaints about this movie – A) I really wish they had chosen a more obviously beautiful girl for the lead female role, especially since her only purpose in the film is to stand around looking wide-eyed and innocent and B) the movie can do without the arbitrary plot twist at the end.

I highly recommend you see this staple of Japanese cult cinema!

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Comments (8)

  1. ben hobbs

    since you liked this movie id recommend that you see death trance and battlefield baseball whitch both stared tak sakaguchi

    May 13, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      I kind of think Sakaguchi Tak is a bit of a pansy, but I saw Battlefield Baseball and thought it was pretty good. I’ll watch Death Trance the next time I’m in the mood for J-horror.

      May 13, 2010
      • kez

        to be fair the guy lost a tooth, cracked 3 ribs and received several knife wounds in the making of versus. that’s pretty hardcore if you ask me.

        October 8, 2010
        • constantineintokyo

          I agree that the fighting in Versus is definitely hardcore. But, personally, the acting was a bit…well, transparent. This seems to be the norm for a lot of recent Japanese film.

          October 10, 2010
  2. ben hobbs

    and also not to mention the fact that tak was an underground streetfighter

    October 9, 2010
    • constantineintokyo

      Yes, everyone loves Tak. But he’s no Nakadai Tatsuya…or Mifune Toshiro. =P

      October 10, 2010
  3. ben hobbs

    i agree with ya(:

    October 12, 2010
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